This probably isn't the right place for this topic, but I couldn't settle on where it might fit best and it seemed kind of appropriate to put it here- moderators, please forgive me!
I've been thinking a lot lately about bioremediation- it seems that as the global ecological situation grows worse and worse (leaving out any mention of particular or global political shiftings ), and so many systems approach or have already crossed the threshold of collapse, there's a need for more drastic action. I think that extraordinary phyto/myco remediation, not as isolated strategies but as the cornerstone of large scale initiatives, are both essential to compensate for rampant pollution and present huge opportunities. I was hoping to get thoughts from some seasoned permaculture goofballs on this idea.
The problem is the solution.
So often I've heard in videos both Bill and Geoff say this, and it's become a mantra of mine. I'm sure others may disagree but the way I've always understood this idea is that systems are inherently dynamic and changing, living systems even more so, so a 'problem' is a moment of imbalance, excess or shortage. As designers it is our job to facilitate system change such that the imbalance is rectified or the structure of the system is shifted so that imbalance is no longer so imbalance-y. Each problem is an opportunity for change, and each moment of change can be guided to the benefit of all. It's always brought to my mind one of my favorite lines by the German poet Holderlin, which translates to something like "but where danger is, grows the saving power also". This principle is easier to understand, I think, when considering a hostile comfrey takeover of a field, or a similar abundance of something. I think it's more difficult to apply to an ecological disaster. I think doing so, however, is much more important.
So with that in mind, consider the idea of farming our ecological disasters. What if one were to take the current situation of, say, the Mississippi River eutrophication as a starting place? As most Americans probably know, excessive crappy farming, ranching, industry practices, septic systems, etc dump absurd amounts of nutrient rich runoff into the Mississippi and all its tributaries each year, so much so that each year an algae bloom 6,000-7,000 square miles is formed on it. All of that growth absorbs all of the available oxygen in the water, suffocating everything else. We know exactly what causes this, and its continued existence is a purely economic one- if farmers, ranchers and stuff makers stopped intentionally or unintentionally dumping nitrogen and phosphorous into the watershed, the dead zone would disappear. That doesn't seem likely to happen, though.
A farm established on the banks of the Mississippi could, through multiple avenues, act as a giant sponge on all of this incredibly fertile water. Some of the excess dissolved nutrient could replace the need for any basic NPK fertilizer, and the excessive life already growing in the water would go a long way to long term enrichment of the fertility and structure of the soil. The farm would act as a giant sponge to clean up the river, breaking the cycle of death and decomposition in the river that was starving the life in the river of oxygen (or at least contributing to it. It's a big river.) From there you could integrate aquatic species, maybe even extending the riparian zone- by maybe adding rocks? Dredge up the soil to one or two inches below the water level for ten feet out from the river at the Northern end of the property (upriver) and replace it with gravel. In the gravel grow reedbeds, water chestnuts, then rice paddies or something similar. I an envision a miniature version of the Tonle Sap, a lake off the Mekong river in Cambodia that expands and contracts every year as the waters of the river 'backflood' into the lake bed. It actually lies kinda parallel to and upstream from where it meets the river. It's an ecological hotspot because of this unique relationship to the river. Mimicking that shape would probably allow for a similar process, maybe one that naturally floods more regularly, achieving the flood and drain method of farming traditionally used for rice fields. This extended river bed, not continuously inundated with fertilizer, could also provide spawning grounds for fish, the shallower water would remain oxygenated much better (more surface area per volume) and could be incredibly productive. Not only that, but increasing the amount of edge, the amount of space where river and land meet, would increase the opportunities for riparian system growth.
In another threadhere, I proposed something similar with the blue-green algae problems on the Florida coast. And these are more mild examples, that don't even get into the kind of circumstances under which you would have to cultivate new strains of species to handle different situations (see mycoremediation stuffs on culturing mushrooms for diesel, or radioactivity).
I know one major objection to this kind of effort would probably be that whatever came from there would be dangerously polluted. Maybe. But would it really be so much worse to supply to the world than all the toxic gick that's already sprayed, pumped and salted in its cultivation? I know many, especially conservationists, feel that the precautionary principle should come first, but ecosystems are incredibly resilient- just take a look at Chernobyl. Bathe an environment in radiation and it can roll with the punches- it's when humans come in and systematically cut, burn, poison, pave and starve every species at every trophic level of an entire system that it falls apart. Besides, we're not talking about doing something to a "pristine" ecosystem- we're talking about life support and risk taking for ravaged, terminal systems. To paraphrase Jacke and Toensmeier in their Edible Forest Garden books, 'shouldn't we leave the parts of our land already in good shape be, and focus our attention on the areas that need our help?'
"The highest function of ecology is the understanding of consequences."
"Cultivate gratitude; hand out seed packets"
The US Government has been doing this for quite awhile on the abandoned military bases. They have learned that digging up sites that were contaminated with munitions, hauling it off to an incendiary, and then regrading the area with hauled in fill was pretty expensive. Now they just use sheep.
A sheep rumen is amazing, and since munitions are comprised of a variety of things that will not be named in this post due to national security, but trust me when I say it grows grass really well. Sheep have the ability to uptake the grass from these sites, process it and render it harmless. The more they mob graze, the more the grass uptakes the former munitions spills and the more the sheep mob graze to eat this delicious, vibrant fodder. In a single summer 30 sheep can mob graze a few acres back to EPA acceptable levels.
I am not even sure we have tapped into the ability of a flock of sheep mob grazing. On purpose I mob-grazed a patch of poison ivy off my farm in about 20 minutes; surprisingly it is one of the most preferred foods for sheep. They love it, and I accidentally mob-grazed a prized patch of raspberries that have been in my family for generations. Whoops! I am not saying sheep can tackle every problem out there, but they can do a lot!
The problem is, just like in the example of the US Government and former military bases, that employs one Sheppard. Digging, hauling, burning, hauling back and regrading soil employs a LOT of people. I try not and be a conspiracy theorist too much, but I believe that is why there is not more of what you are suggesting. It does not have to make sense, it just has to put more people to work to justify doing.
None of us enjoy getting political or conspiratorial but to solve problems you have to understand them.
There is not always a will, a good will. Thats evident if we are being intellectually honest.
So like the weeds (no negative connotation in my mind) that seek our pockets of productive soil amidst cracks in the sidewalk...we must find out where there is a will...and do our restorative work there.
Travis that's brilliant use of sheep! They should embrace it, I would buy DOD brand wool or yarn, and here in my part of the world you could probably move come serious product if you could say it was 'made with real guns, bombs and other munitions' I'm guessing the grasses absorb the N material present much like they scavenge mineralized N from the soil?
Jamie I think you definitely have a point. I am with you in trying to NOT give in to the simple answer that a conspiracy provides- as Bill often said, when you see something evil, there is at some level something completely stupid tied up in it. I think it may be true that someone like the Army Corp of Engineers or the BLM would avoid this kind of work because it doesn't employ many people or cost a lot of money. Part of that might be simply believing it's too good to be true, though- the folks that make decisions about apportioning funds/equipment/manpower are no doubt used to throwing a few million dollars at this, a billion over here, 120 people to this site, etc etc. I'm sure for someone like that, hearing a proposal that a major disaster could be fixed with minimal changes and (to them) minuscule amounts of money and effort sounds impossible. 'If something so easy existed we would already be doing it, so take your snake oil elsewhere!' type thing.
Another aspect that I have seen in my own experience in the business world is the debilitating effects of a 'Culture of Accountability'. If you're the person who takes the risk on something new, it could come back to bite you if the new thing doesn't work out. Keep doing the same old, same old, however, and you're not to blame no matter what happens. That's the 'industry standard', after all.
I hope to be a weed! But I like the metaphor of a pest. "It's not a slug problem, it's a duck deficiency." Well if you have a horrifying endless cascade of slugs, glorping about and mucking everything up as far as the eye can see, you can have a whole duck farm! Similarly I see these impossibly vast streams of 'pollution' leaking out of the global capitalist economic machine (not that there's anything wrong or right with it, hoping this doesn't run afoul of the cider press rules), and can only think 'boy oh boy, what a resource!'. At least I'm trying to see them that way, because I think doing so will allow for closing a lot of loops and ending a lot of that pollution.
"The highest function of ecology is the understanding of consequences."
"Cultivate gratitude; hand out seed packets"
somewhere I read that cattails might be an answer to the flooding along the Mississippi (might have been Mark Shepard). If the banks and flood plains were planted with cattails, they would absorb the excess water and nutrients and create biomass that could be cut in the dry season and used for making compost.
But I see there is a big misprint on the cover, it says "You can help stop their spread". It should read "ENCOURAGE their spread". Yes, that's it, to have successful permaculture, to be able to repair the biome from ecological damage that has been done to it, you have to work with what wants to and is able to grow. If mimosa trees can thrive and proliferate in an environment, and they have many uses (see Plants for a Future to check out their utility), why would I want to eradicate them?
I have a feeling that the whole business of invasive weed control is going to undergo radical change as climate change becomes more pronounced. Climate models tell us that plants are going to have a difficult time adapting, so any plants that are successful colonizers shouldn't be given the evil eye, they should have the welcome mat greeting them.
I agree John. Here in Maine MILLIONS are spent on trying to eradicate even a single lake and that is failing miserably, not to mention our other 15,000 lakes that need help and are gong without remediation methods. Here is a radical concept (insert rolling of the eyes here)...what if they took the same about of money and applied it to sustainable agriculture; wouldn't we all be better off?
One issue I have here is silage liquor. I know waste silage makes the most ideal compost so I was wondering what I could do with the effluent, seems it makes incredible biogass. I guess even on a small family sheep farm the problem just may be the solution.